Radiation Therapy and You

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´╗┐Radiation Therapy and You:

Support for People with Cancer

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services | National Institutes of Health

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Product or brand names that appear in this booklet are for example only. The U.S. Government does not endorse any specific product or brand. If products or brands are not mentioned, it does not mean or imply that they are not satisfactory.

1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237)

About this Booklet

Radiation Therapy and You is for you, if you are about to have or are now having radiation therapy for cancer. People who are close to you may also find this booklet helpful.

Rather than read this booklet from beginning to end, look at only those sections you need now. Later, you can always read more.

This booklet covers:

? Questions and Answers about Radiation Therapy. Answers to common questions, such as what radiation therapy is and how it affects cancer cells.

? External Beam and Internal Radiation. Information about the two main types of radiation therapy.

? Side Effects and Ways to Manage Them. Information about side effects that may occur, depending on the part of your body being treated, and ways you can manage them.

? Questions to Ask. Questions for you to think about and discuss with your doctor, nurse, and others involved in your treatment and care.

? Lists of Foods and Liquids. Suggestions for foods and drinks that can help with side effects.

Talk with your doctor and nurse about the information in this booklet. They may suggest that you read certain sections or follow specific tips. Because radiation therapy affects people in different ways, they may also tell you that some of the information in this booklet does not apply to you.

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Rather than read this book from beginning to end--look at only those sections you need now. Later, you can always read more.

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Table of Contents

Questions and Answers about Radiation Therapy ...................... 1

External Beam Radiation Therapy.................................................... 9

Internal Radiation Therapy .............................................................. 15

Radiation Therapy Side Effects........................................................ 19

Treatment Areas and Possible Side Effects.............................................21 Ways to Manage Side Effects....................................................................22

Diarrhea ..............................................................................................22 Fatigue .................................................................................................24 Hair Loss .............................................................................................27 Mouth Changes ..................................................................................30 Nausea and Vomiting ........................................................................34 Sexual and Fertility Changes ............................................................36 Skin Changes ......................................................................................40 Throat Changes ..................................................................................43 Urinary and Bladder Changes..........................................................45 Late Effects ..........................................................................................47

Questions to Ask Your Doctor or Nurse....................................... 49

Lists of Foods and Liquids................................................................. 51

Clear Liquids..............................................................................................51 Low-Fiber Foods .......................................................................................52 Foods and Drinks that Are High in Calories or Protein......................53 Foods and Drinks that Are Easy on the Stomach .................................54

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Rather than read this book from beginning to end--look at only those sections you need now. Later, you can always read more.

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Questions and Answers about Radiation Therapy

What is radiation therapy?

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) is a cancer treatment that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. At low doses, radiation is used as an x-ray to see inside your body and take pictures, such as x-rays of your teeth or broken bones.

How is radiation therapy given?

Radiation therapy can be external beam or internal. External beam involves a machine outside your body that aims radiation at cancer cells. Internal radiation therapy involves placing radiation inside your body, in or near the cancer. Sometimes people get both forms of radiation therapy. To learn more about external beam radiation therapy, see page 9. To learn more about internal radiation therapy, see page 15.

Who gets radiation therapy?

Many people with cancer need treatment with radiation therapy. In fact, more than half (about 60%) of people with cancer have radiation therapy. Sometimes, radiation therapy is the only kind of cancer treatment people have.

What does radiation therapy do to cancer cells?

Given in high doses, radiation kills or slows the growth of cancer cells. Radiation therapy is used to: ? Treat cancer. Radiation can be used to cure cancer, to prevent it from

returning, or to stop or slow its growth.

? Reduce symptoms. When a cure is not possible, radiation may be used to treat pain and other problems caused by the cancer tumor. Or, it can prevent problems that may be caused by a growing tumor, such as blindness or loss of bowel and bladder control.

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How long does radiation therapy take to work?

Radiation therapy does not kill cancer cells right away. It takes days or weeks of treatment before cancer cells start to die. Then, cancer cells keep dying for weeks or months after radiation therapy ends.

What does radiation therapy do to healthy cells?

Radiation not only kills or slows the growth of cancer cells, it can also affect nearby healthy cells. The healthy cells almost always recover after treatment is over. But sometimes people may have side effects that are severe or do not get better. Other side effects may show up months or years after radiation therapy is over. These are called late side effects.

Doctors try to protect healthy cells during treatment by:

?? Using as low a dose of radiation as possible. The radiation dose is balanced between being high enough to kill cancer cells, yet low enough to limit damage to healthy cells.

?? Spreading out treatment over time. You may get radiation therapy once a day, or in smaller doses twice a day for several weeks. Spreading out the radiation dose allows normal cells to recover while cancer cells die.

?? Aiming radiation at a precise part of your body. Some types of radiation therapy allow your doctor to aim high doses of radiation at your cancer while reducing radiation to nearby healthy tissue. These techniques use a computer to deliver precise radiation doses to a cancer tumor or to specific areas within the tumor.

Does radiation therapy hurt?

No, radiation therapy does not hurt while it is being given. But the side effects that people may get from radiation therapy can cause pain and discomfort. This booklet has a lot of information about ways that you and your doctor and nurse can help manage side effects.

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